As against the traditional system of combining endogamous marriage in India, marriage in Europe is based on the independent decision of the two partners to the marriage, who are guided mainly by romantic love, sex attraction, companionship, rapport, sympathetic understanding, idealisation, etc. In view of the increasing degree of marital discord in present-day society despite the prevalence of an absolute independence of free choice in regard to marriage, even the term ‘romantic love’ needs to be redefined in the wake of the changing mores and standards of values in its physical as well as social-psychological aspects.
It is a psychological fact that to ensure happiness, it is indispensable to prepare oneself for marriage, especially in the adjustment techniques. Evidently, the personality of an individual starts taking a definite shape right from childhood, with the child’s attitude towards different members of the family. These impressions and attitudes in the child’s mind may prove to be either highly congenial to adjustments later with one’s marital partner or even insuperable impediments.
From the point of view of ensuring success and happiness in life, preparation for marriage actually involves a preparation for life itself, that is a capacity to deal with various situations. For this purpose, it is necessary to ensure intellectual and emotional development simultaneously, so that both parties to the marriage may assume adult responsibilities not only ungrudgingly but also with an attitude of spiritual devotion. Marriage is undoubtedly a situation to be taken up with the courage of a realist and not to be evaded like an escapist. Evidently escapism offers no solution to a problem, especially when it concerns marital relations.
Some people believe that marriage is an abrupt and jolting change from courtship and engagement, which is no longer true in modern conditions, where the transition is admittedly a gradual one. During the period of courtship and engagement, couples have the opportunity of experiencing varied situations, testing the adaptability of both the parties and the extent of reciprocal assimilation of the two personalities. They are fully conscious of each other’s personality traits. The prospective husband is aware of the type of make-up used by his prospective wife and how she looks in a bathing suit or in a housecoat. They see each other under both favourable and unfavourable physical and psychological conditions.
There is also a widely prevalent notion that the success of a woman is judged mainly in terms of her marital status, whereas that of a man is judged with reference to his occupational achievements. This indicates a distinct psychological situation in which the two sexes find themselves, whereas the prevalent social system induces a woman mainly to enhance her appearance and social relations, thereby making herself more attractive to the opposite sex.
Marriage implies a satisfactory orientation towards the culturally defined concept of ‘love’, which is often seen as somewhat mysterious, irrational and a highly individualistic affair because of the progressively increasing stress on rationality. The concept of the so-called romantic love as the only basis of marriage often creates problems, both social and psychological. The traditional ideal requiring a woman to be physically attractive and not too bright, at least pretend to be such, entirely subservient to the man, has faded in the wake of the progress of education.
The change from Victorian sexual mores, prevalent during the 19th century towards the modern attitude to sexual relations, is also often associated with the woman’s status. The concept of sin in sexual mores, both in and outside of marriage, is losing significance. In certain countries (including India), abortion has been legalised and children born out of wedlock are given full legal and social approval. It has been observed that there has been a progressively increasing parity concerning behaviour patterns in the field of sex mores, marriages and family living
Despite all this freedom, adolescent girls are usually encouraged to turn their attention towards marriage and family matters. About their relation with boys, girls are advised to be relatively passive and to set limits to sexual intimacy. Thus, the burden of responsibility falls on the woman, who is denied the initiative, a rather curious combination of rights and obligations. However, this state of affairs is undergoing a rapid change. The custom that the young man always pays when the couple goes out no longer holds true indicating that both partners now share initiative and decision-making equally.
The question arises as to whether this relaxation in the sexual pattern confers on the woman an advantage in comparison to her traditional position. There are divergent opinions in this regard. The supporters of tolerant sexual mores plead that apart from providing natural sexual satisfaction, this would ensure a harmonious development of the personality, guarding against double standards in behaviour, thereby avoiding complexes and psychological distortions. Against this, the opponents of more tolerant sexual mores apprehend a disadvantageous position for the young girl leading to premature sex-indulgence.
As stated earlier, the institution of love marriage is known in India. The Gandharva type of marriage was nothing else than a love marriage in the strict sense of the term. In the Gandharva marriage, the main deciding factor for marriage was love.
During the post-Vedic period, the prevalence of Samana festivals, in which girls freely participated and looked for a suitable husband testifies to the prevalence of love marriage in India right from the earliest times. This was especially more prevalent among the lower classes, among whom women in India have always enjoyed more freedom in regard to marriage, partially on account of their active participation in earning income. Among certain Indian tribes, for example, the Murias of Madhya Pradesh, there exists a tradition of practising a form of free love that combines the logic and impulse of sexual attraction. They have an institution called the ghotul which provides for unmarried young men and women in India to live in sexual intimacy till they find the person of their choice for marriage. This institution of absolute freedom is prevalent among them even today, more or less in its original form. But among rural and urban societies, the institution of free love went through the radical change, towards degeneration, with the development of the tendency of exploitation which took different dimensions, for example, in the name of religion, caste, sex, etc. The Rishabdev Mela (fair) of Rajasthan is reminiscent of the old Samana fair.
In urban society, on festival gatherings and similar occasions, there are often opportunities for young men and women to make friends. Even so, parents kept a watchful eye on their progeny and if such friendship became serious and the young couple wished to get married, the boy’s parents usually approved if formal permission was sought by the parents of the girl.
In the Swayamvam marriage, prevalent among the noble class, the girl was given absolute independence to choose her husband from among the gathered suitors. However, later, the institution of marriage based on love came to be restricted to a very small minority.
The freedom enjoyed by young people in the West to form friendships necessarily means that a higher proportion of marriages are based on love and free choice within the social limitations. However, in Europe too this freedom was attained by the urban middle classes or aristocracy after the First World War. Before this, arranged marriage appeared to have been more common (Joel M. Halpern. A Serbian Village); for example, in Serbia all negotiations were carried on between the heads of the two families concerned.
Further, this freedom was not absolute. Parents continue to play an important role in their children’s decisions in varying degrees, depending upon regional and cultural conditions. Certain field studies made by some sociologists in this connection are quite revealing.
In a study of a French village, Wylie states that “all the people of Peyrane, whom I questioned on this point, agreed that the most important condition for marriage was not only love” (Laurence Wylie. Village in the Vaucluse). The increasing participation of women in almost all spheres of social, administrative, political and industrial activity, coupled with the decreasing authority of the parents over their children, has made the institution of love marriage universal in the West.
During the last five decades in India there has been expansion in educational facilities, industrialisation and urbanisation has led to a debate on women’s emancipation in India The prevalence of arranged marriage in India has been exposed to much criticism and there has been an incessant struggle by urban educated women for free choice. It would be worthwhile to consider this matter from the historical point of view.
In India, there prevails a system of a joint family in which, normally, three generations live together in a patriarchal system which administers the various affairs of the family. Thus, the elders are held in great esteem and have almost irrefutable authority. Young family members who fail to adhere to their advice and decisions are subject not only to the displeasure of the elders but to social opprobrium as well.
In this state of affairs, even the younger generation which is otherwise supposed to be highly modern in their outlook on life is compelled to turn to the parents in matters of matrimony. It is considered a sacred duty of a daughter in a traditional Indian family to submit to her parents’ selection of a husband. There may be some girls who are aggressive and resourceful enough to choose their own life partner, but even in such cases, the approval of the parents is usually obtained. Apart from such exceptional cases, it is the privilege as well as the responsibility of the parents to find a suitable match for their daughters. To do so in a society bound by traditions of caste endogamy, gotra, and village exogamy and by the evil of dowry is a gruelling task and some parents naturally seem to be secretly wishing that their daughters solve this problem for themselves. If the girl in such a family is fortunate and courageous enough to do so, the parents readily acquiesce despite some tacit social disapproval.
In these circumstances, the marriage, which is a strictly personal affair, is transformed into a vulgar display of one’s social status marriage ceremony, instead of being a gathering of close friends relations, often becomes an unmanageable crowd involving wasteful expenditure by the bride’s parents. The marriage party from the groom’s side, which could be huge, adds no ritual or social significance to the marriage. By the time the bridal couple gets ready to exchange their marital vows, the crowd has normally left. The girl’s parent normally observe a fast for divine favour till the conclusion of the marriage, can heave a sigh of relief only at the conclusion of the sacrificial fire ceremony sanctifying the marriage.
Increasing education and contact with the West has naturally had its own effect on the state of affairs, and today the educated Indian seems to be picking up courage, of course with certain reservations, to hold that marriage being a matter of profound social importance, should be left to the free choice of the young. The standard of values and behaviour seems to be undergoing a radical change, so much so that virginity as a pre-requisite to marriage is perhaps not as significant today as it used to be, and the young talk freely about sex and conceding that a woman’s physical need is as great as a man’s, implying that both have an equal right to enjoy sex before and outside marriage. However, this revolutionary attitude is not in accord with actual behaviour. An insignificant minority of urban educated women share these ideas partially on account of the irrational restrictive behaviour of their parents and also their own economic independence. In a sample survey of Delhi and Agra university students, one respondent said: “I am free to do whatever I feel like doing, and intentionally do things that my parents hold to be sinful and immoral.” A survey made in Poona University in April-May 1975 and another in Delhi University in 2001 substantiated the prevalence of a similar tendency.
The most evident change in this regard is the open discussion on sex. The young generation feels that parents should discuss sex freely with their children. Although it is still difficult to comment on the actual change in sexual behaviour, in matters of dress at least, the younger generation feels less embarrassed to expose their body. The concept of lovemaking, too, has undergone a significant transformation. An enquiry made in this connection suggests that today it means ‘rational love’, resulting from the knowledge and assessment of the material and emotional assets of the prospective husband. Now compatibility is the watchword instead of the old-fashioned romance. Further, consideration of personal and social factors is also shaping the educated Hindu woman’s idea of love from the ‘romantic’ to the ‘calculated’. Evidently, love marriages among educated working women is becoming more common and the concept of the traditional institution of marriage as a permanent and sacred contract is now being substituted by the concept of a practical contract suited to both parties. A large number of young people marry for material reasons. Another development is the ‘neo-arranged marriage‘ in which the parents select a suitable boy and then the boy and girl are allowed to meet a few times and take a final decision themselves.
This situation does not signify a total revolution in the Indian woman’s ideas on love, sex and marriage. Instead, it indicates an evolution in a certain direction which needs to be given a proper lead.
In the present transitional stage, the urban educated Indian woman seems to be developing an increasingly superficial and materialistic attitude which has an impact on their attitude towards matrimonial relations and the parent-child relationship. The degree of affection for children is often low and leads to the development of distorted personalities. The confusion about the standard of values is manifesting itself in various ways, for example, increase in juvenile delinquency, student unrest, disobedience, etc.
As stated earlier, the Indian woman’s struggle for rights is limited to her role as a wife. Since Indian society at large is still clinging to traditionalism, modern educated Indian working women find themselves in a state of ambivalence and high tension, or with a sense of guilt as well which needs to be removed by the conscious co-operation and understanding of men who, normally, tend to traditional values which are tilted in their favour.